How can a civics education translate into civic engagement?

How can a civics education translate into civic engagement?

When did you first learn about voting? Was it a lesson in school? Or a trip to the polls? In the latest segment of our 2020 election series, we’re exploring how a strong civics education can translate to real-life civic engagement.

Plus, what does it mean to be “media literate”? And what effect can teaching media literacy have on an election?

Produced by Julie Depenbrock


  • Lesley Younge Teacher, Maret School
  • Erin Geiger Smith Author, "Thank You for Voting: The Maddening, Enlightening, Inspiring Truth About Voting in America"; @erin_gs
  • Susan Moeller Professor of Media and International Affairs, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland

"Thank You For Voting" Excerpt

The dates of voting rights victories can sound like ancient history, but the 1965 Voting Rights Act gave many people alive today their first opportunity to vote, and other groundbreaking voting laws benefited the parents and grandparents of today’s Americans. A white woman born in 1900 would have been among the first able to vote nationwide as soon as she turned twenty-one. Many immigrants of Asian descent born that same year wouldn’t have their citizenship approved until the year they turned fifty-two. An African American born at the turn of the twentieth century and living in the South may not have cast a ballot on Election Day until she was sixty-five years old.

Media Literacy

MediaWise: How to sort fact from fiction online - Poynter

Our mission at MediaWise is to empower people of all ages to be more critical consumers of content online. We teach people key digital literacy skills to spot misinformation and disinformation so they can make decisions based on facts, not fiction. We believe that when facts prevail, democracy wins.


  • 12:00:03

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome.

  • 12:00:10

    DEON'TE GOODMAN(singing) How does a system work with democratically elected leaders chosen every four years by well trusted procedures so everyone can help fulfill the founding fathers vision. If people don't take part in the decision ...

  • 12:00:27

    DANIEL YEARWOODWho could envision four years ago those, who sat out numbered 100 million. A third of us weren't willing to choose a direction and 80,000 voters across three states was all it took to swing the whole election.

  • 12:00:40

    MANDY GONZALEZThen the midterms came and isn't it a shame. A quarter of young people let the election go right past them. They might have made a difference, but the registration deadline came and went and some didn't register, because no one asked them.

  • 12:00:55

    GOODMANOur work isn't done. Democracy is our business. Can't just sit at home and leave to the special interests. Let's be educated decide what the future is since here comes the person with power to make the biggest difference.

  • 12:01:11

    JUSTICE MOOREOrdinary citizen, I'm just an ordinary citizen. I'm not political. I've never been and I don't vote. I don't vote.

  • 12:01:25

    NNAMDIThat remix of Alexander Hamilton was created by the non-profit, non-partisan organization, When We All Vote whose mission is to increase participation in every election. Today in the second segment in our 2020 election series we're exploring how an education in civics and media literacy can translate to real life civic engagement and make us all a more informed electorate. Joining us now is Erin Geiger Smith, the Author of "Thank You For Voting: The Maddening, Enlightening, Inspiring Truth About Voting in America." Erin Geiger Smith, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:02:01

    ERIN GEIGER SMITHThanks for having me. That was a fantastic intro.

  • 12:02:04

    NNAMDII loved it too. What motivated you to write "Thank You For Voting"?

  • 12:02:08

    SMITHAfter the 2016 election there were just so many big questions we needed to answer, what went wrong with polling? What -- might we see something crazy from the Electoral College? What role did the media play? And as a member of the media I was curious how we could do better in covering elections. And all of that, all of those big questions led me to a research project on voting and that became this book.

  • 12:02:35

    SMITHAnd what really just struck me and what I became most interested in exploring was how low our turnout levels are in this country, especially among younger voters and so I wanted to know why that was and what people were doing about it. The bottom line was it just hit me over and over how much I and people, who are just the most active and educated voters even, we don't know enough, I didn't feel like about our voting history and that led all the way to how we often fail to teach people to vote.

  • 12:03:12

    NNAMDIGlad you mentioned younger voters, because you've also written a version of "Thank You For Voting" aimed at young readers. Why is it so important that young people in particular learn about voting?

  • 12:03:23

    SMITHWell, I think we as Americans we all the time we almost brag about we all have the right to vote and isn't it so wonderful. But what we don't do is teach kids the mechanics of voting that you have to register. That you might have to have an I.D., who it is that we're voting for, you know, what do these ladies and gentlemen actually do.

  • 12:03:50

    SMITHAnd so I wanted to write for young people those things that I was -- as I wrote the adult book so much that I realized I missed out learning when I was younger. And my hope was I could be part of grabbing kids at a younger age to have pride in our voting system, be honest about where we can do better and then just get existed to vote at their first opportunity.

  • 12:04:16

    NNAMDIWell, we heard from Mary Tyler and I only know two Mary Tylers. One of them, bless her heart, is no longer with us. The other one is Mary Tyler March who actually works for WAMU, who wrote, "My dad took me out canvassing in rural Rowan County, North Carolina just a few months before my 11th birthday. I was still a ways off from being of voting age. But my dad thought it was important to show me the value of civic engagement early on outside of casting a vote when I would eventually be able to. It was a blistering summer day and I remember having a few doors slammed in our faces, and a couple of offers for water and lemonade. Mostly I look back at that day and think of how grateful I am to have a dad, himself a longtime English teacher, who taught me the value of participatory democracy."

  • 12:05:02

    NNAMDIThat's from our own WAMU's Mary Tyler March. Erin, what do you remember about your own early civic education?

  • 12:05:10

    SMITHWell, my mom always took me with her to vote. I'm from a really small town in Texas and so it was something that happened quickly, but regularly. We would park in the library. I remember walking in and feeling the blast of Texas air conditioning anytime you walked in the library where they voted. We chatted with the poll workers. She would vote. It took, you know, maybe 10 minutes, because of how small our town is, and we'd go on about our business.

  • 12:05:38

    SMITHMy mom didn't discuss politics a lot. But just by the repeated activity that I remember doing throughout my childhood, she really taught me to vote. And it wasn't until I recorded -- reported this book that I realized what a privilege that is that learning to vote is a privilege. And I feel so lucky to have had that experience.

  • 12:06:01

    NNAMDIIt became very important in your life. You can also find a number of civics and media literary resources linked to our web page at where you can also join the conversation. Make a comment. Ask a question. What did you learn about government and civics in school? Did it make you want to get involved, vote, run for office? Joining us now is Lesley Younge who teaches English and Math at the Maret School in Washington D.C. Lesley, thank you for joining us again.

  • 12:06:27

    LESLEY YOUNGEThank you for having me.

  • 12:06:29

    NNAMDILesley, the last time we spoke you had joined us for our Kojo Climate series on Hope and Action. That was just earlier this year if you can believe it. Things have, of course, changed a lot since then for you. You're at a new school and teaching remotely. What has that experience been like?

  • 12:06:46

    YOUNGEOh, change is definitely the key word there. Everything has changed, but so much has also remained the same. I mean, making connections with students even in virtual spaces remains the primary concern, and then choosing content that matters to them and trying to get them engaged in activities whether in person or virtually. That part has stayed the same, even though, the way that we're doing that has changed.

  • 12:07:18

    NNAMDIWhen you think, Lesley, about your own civic education, do you feel it was adequate? When did you first learn about democracy in America as it is practiced and how it works?

  • 12:07:31

    YOUNGEYou know, I was reflecting on this conversation and I actually think some other more personal and local experiences helped shape my views on voting. I was one of those people, who loved to run for school office. And in high school I held a number of offices and ran campaigns and gave speeches and that sort of thing. I had watched my parents do that for national organizations they were a part of. And my senior year in high school, I actually served as a local youth commissioner for the Walnut -- I grew up in town called Walnut, California. And I was on the Walnut Youth Council. And we hold these meetings and they would ask us questions about what the youth thought. And they would be held in our little teen center that was in a strip mall at the time.

  • 12:08:17

    YOUNGEBut actually one of the big decisions that we made was to ask for a permanent teen center, which exists in the town today. And I think those early experiences seeing my own personal impact on my school and on my town definitely gave me the impression when I was 18 and I had moved to New York that voting was just something I was definitely going to be doing.

  • 12:08:40

    NNAMDIWhat are you teaching your own students about voting?

  • 12:08:45

    YOUNGEYeah, so incorporating voting into the classroom no matter what you subject is it's a lofty goal, but it's also really achievable. There are a lot of wonderful resources out there for teachers. As we were preparing for the primaries in the spring, I used a couple of really great ones. One was It's a website and organization that was started by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and they have gamified a lot of the political processes.

  • 12:09:20

    YOUNGEAnd so as I was developing this unit for 6th graders on civic education and sort of how the national, the state and the local governments all work together, gamifying some of those processes for them really helped them understand. One, the lengthy processes that bills have to go through, that candidates have to go through before the American people vote on them. And also, what I really loved about these games is that they didn't diminish the complexity of the processes. But they did help students understand them.

  • 12:09:54

    YOUNGESo I totally agree that process is a really important thing to communicate. And then also how to navigate the resources that were given to understand these things whether it is a voter guide that comes in the mail or an Instagram post or a newspaper article. There is so much information coming across about different political issues, different political candidates, whether it's at the national state or local level, and interpreting this information is really a key skill that students need to start getting in school.

  • 12:10:29

    NNAMDIWell, Lesley, civics and government classes have a reputation, so to speak, among kids. There's a sense that government is pretty far removed from their lives and that this stuff just doesn't matter. Do you see that among young people now today? And if so, how do you counter that attitude?

  • 12:10:44

    YOUNGEI think there are a lot of kids, who are turned off by what they see the adults doing especially on the larger levels, the national levels, the really contentious conversations and campaigns. I don't think that really engages them and it does all feel very far away when the issues don't seem relevant to them. But I think when we bring it down to the local level, that's where I've seen students really become engaged.

  • 12:11:15

    YOUNGEThis past spring we had a panel of wonderful, wonderful people who work at either the state or the local level, town managers, state delegates, and they began talking about issues that the kids could understand really impact them. That when you vote at the local or state level, you can be deciding things like your trash pickup, how often that happens, where that happens. Whether your community is being serviced properly, it can impact the parks that they have access to. Whether that park will have a playground designed for children their age or not, whether it will be wheelchair accessible, which might be something someone in their family might need. When you start to talk about local issues that they encounter every day, they begin to understand the importance of making sure their voices are heard.

  • 12:12:07

    NNAMDIAnd you mention that at a time when I am broadcasting from home and my trash pickup just passed through my back alley just before this broadcast started. And I'm waving at them to try to get out of the alley before the broadcast actually starts so all the listeners won't hear them. And they complied and managed to do it. So yes, that underscores the importance of understanding how these local issues affect you. You too can give us a call 800-433-8850. We'll get back to some more local issues when you come back. You can also send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:12:53

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about elections and voter engagement with Lesley Younge who teaches English and Math at the Maret School in D.C. And Erin Geiger Smith, the Author of "Thank You For Voting: The Maddening, Enlightening, Inspiring Truth About Voting in America." And when we took that break we were talking about how important some of these local issues are. And, Erin, I think Carol in Bethesda's call is right in your wheelhouse. Carol, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:13:20

    CAROLThank you. I'm so glad to have this chance to ask how do I find out about the other people on the ballot. I know who I want to vote for president, vice president. But what about the judge of the circuit court, the court of appeals and then -- I just need to know who and how to find out about all the amendments too. Okay.

  • 12:13:49

    NNAMDIErin Geiger Smith, you underscore the importance of these lower down the ballot issues.

  • 12:13:54

    SMITHSure. Yes. Thank you, Carol, for that question. We all need to figure out what's on our ballot, because if you don't, often you show up and those races at the bottom you have no idea who to choose. One organization that does that really well is the League of Women Voters. The national website for that is And they will help show what's on your ballot and for most of the races we'll have -- candidates have answered questions on how they feel about certain issues that can also help you walk through some of the ballot initiatives whose language is often hard to decipher if you're reading it for the first time while you're voting. So that's an organization that does that really well.

  • 12:14:39

    SMITHYour local elections board should also on their website guides to what you'll be voting for. And I think those are two really good resources. But I personally love using to figure what all I will be voting for. Those ballots can be long and confusing.

  • 12:15:01

    NNAMDICarol, thank you very much for your call and good luck to you. Lesley, a couple of jurisdictions at our region allow 16-year-olds to vote in local elections. Is there any kind of consensus among your students that the voting age should in general be lowered?

  • 12:15:17

    YOUNGEIt's so (word?) I just worked on an essay with a student, who was interested in thinking about this. And as a young person she decided no. That young people should -- that the voting age should not be lowered. But it was really interesting to have that conversation. And I don't know that there's consensus. Some kids want to be seen as kids, and some kids want to be empowered as adults. And I feel like the ...

  • 12:15:45

    NNAMDIOh, Lesley is breaking up on us. We'll see if we can get a better connection with Lesley shortly. But, Erin Geiger Smith, the federal voting age is 18, but it has not always been. When did it change and why?

  • 12:15:58

    SMITHIt changed in the early 1970s by constitutional amendment. It was the quickest ratified amendment in history. The reason -- the movement sort of to change it started with the idea of if you can go to war you can vote. And, though, it took decades for it to happen, one of the arguments that I found most interesting about it at the time that helped it pass was so many more Americans were graduating from high school at that time. And the argument was that they would be as educated on many issues as many people decades older than them.

  • 12:16:40

    SMITHSo that was sort of one of the arguments behind it. And once the federal elections were changed to age 18 a constitutional amendment was necessary to make sure all the states could be in line with that quickly as well. But I think one of the reasons that we have struggle with turnout in that youngest demographic, it's kind of a newish right and we haven't gotten really great at making sure those youngest voters know why they should vote and how they should vote.

  • 12:17:19

    NNAMDIJodie emails, "My mom lived in Belgium under Hitler. She always took me with her when she voted and impressed upon me the importance of casting your vote. She told me people died so we could have that right, and it was a dishonor to them if we did not vote. I have voted in every election since I was eligible." Jodie, thank you for your email. And here now is Nora in Arlington. Nora, your turn.

  • 12:17:44

    NORAHi, Kojo. My experience is that my family migrated from Cuba in 1956. And when I was 13 my father talked to me. He says, "Would you like to become an American citizen along with me?" because you had to be a certain age. And through that process of becoming an American citizen is when I learned about the importance of voting. So since the age of 18, I have voted in every local, state and national election. And it really upsets me when I hear of youth or younger generations not -- when I ask them, "Did you vote?" And they say, "Oh, no. I'll vote for, you know, the presidential." I said, "No. It's so important." And I, you know, give them that.

  • 12:18:31

    NORAI'm not a teacher. But I believe I should have been one, because I've always tried to teach the younger people, you know, about the responsibilities. And I believe it should be a day that we should have it as a holiday. That everybody -- when it comes to voting that everybody should have off so we could all get to it. And also more education at a younger age, because, myself, at 13 I then got interested in both history and civics from that point on.

  • 12:19:05

    NNAMDIWell, Virginia, you should know, now has a statewide holiday on Election Day. But I'm glad you were talking about young people, because Lesley Younge is back with us. Lesley teaches English and Math at the Maret School in Washington D.C. And when Lesley dropped you were talking about the notion of 16-year-olds being allowed to vote and whether there was any consensus among students that a voting should be lowered. Lesley, please continue.

  • 12:19:28

    YOUNGEOh, I apologize for being dropped, but, yes, thank you. I was just saying that I think there is some interest and also it really does signify your entry into being adult and having your voice considered. And so I think there are students who feel ready for that responsibility and some students who want to know a bit more before they begin participating in that process.

  • 12:19:56

    YOUNGESo I was saying that I recently reviewed an essay with a student who decided that 16-year-olds were not mature enough to vote. She was 12 and did not see her cousins as perhaps having the skills to do so. Maybe there were some trust issues there, but I think it's a great conversation to engage students in and to start to ask them what they would need to participate well. And think about how to start preparing themselves.

  • 12:20:23

    NNAMDIHere now is Allen in Bethesda, Maryland. Allen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:20:27

    ALLENThank you, Kojo. I'm the Founder and CEO of the News Literacy Project, which is a non-partisan educational non-profit that provides resources for educators and the public to teach and learn the skills to become informed consumers of news and information and actively engage participants and democracy. We found that students who complete our lessons 80 percent of them say they're more likely to become civically engaged. Lesley touched on this a few moments ago, but I'd like to ask Erin and Lesley, how important do you think it is particularly for the next generation to have this critical thinking skill to become civically engaged?

  • 12:21:07

    NNAMDIAnd, Allen, thank you for coming back to the broadcast. We had Allen on last in 2013. But I'll start with you, Erin, in response to Allen.

  • 12:21:14

    SMITHI think it's terribly important. So important, in fact, that I include some of the news literacy projects break down of how to identify what kind of information you are seeing. Is it news? Is it opinion? Is it advertising? Is it propaganda in the children's book? I think it is just so very important not just for young people, but people of every age, who are now getting so much media in so many different ways and so many different forms to continue to stay on top of our own education. But I think learning to read the news and how to find accurate information is just vital, honestly, to the continuation of our democracy. I mean, I could not overstate the importance.

  • 12:22:07

    NNAMDIGot an email from Maurie who said, "When I was in elementary school, the school wasn't closed on Election Day. Only we didn't have gym, since it was filled with voting machines. We saw the lines of our parents and neighbors snaking through the hallway and into the big room. So we saw how people voted. It was not something foreign or a day for no school. We learned a lesson in civics every Election Day." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:22:46

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're having a conversation about election literacy and civic engagement with Lesley Younge, who teaches English and Math at the Maret School in Washington D.C. And Erin Geiger is the Author of "Thank You For Voting: The Maddening, Enlightening, Inspiring Truth About Voting in America." And, Erin, it's hard to know how this election will play out, but many are worried that the president has laid the groundwork to question the legitimacy of the election result if it is not in his favor. What institutions are in place to ensure things like a peaceful transition to a new administration?

  • 12:23:19

    SMITHWell, I think that, number one, we can feel somewhat calm by looking at history and know that it has, indeed, happened all times in modern history. And know that -- you know, I don't want to downplay that people are concerned. I think that you're right, the president has set that tone and raised those questions. So, I don't think we can, you know, discard that. But I think what we can hope is that people on both the Republican and the Democratic side are preparing for all sorts of possibilities.

  • 12:24:00

    SMITHI think that if it's a question that goes to the courts, then that can play out in the way that it is supposed to. And it will be the courts addressing a specific question. That might be about deadlines for mail-in ballots. It might be about procedure or a count in a particular state. But it shouldn't be just chaos and mayhem.

  • 12:24:26

    SMITHI think that what we can hope is that we have the systems in place to work, and that because the president isn't the only one on the ballot, there are going to be a lot of other people who want to depend on the election results. You're going to have congressmen -- congresspeople, excuse me -- and senators who are also being elected and having votes counted. And I think where those people stand on whether or not it's a fair election is going to be really important. I understand people's stress. I think we just have to hope that preparations are being made to make sure things go smoothly.

  • 12:25:04

    NNAMDIWell, a lot of the information we're getting from those people we get by way of media, whether it happens to be mainstream media, alternative media or social media. So, joining us now is Susan Moeller, professor of Media and International Affairs at the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Susan Moeller, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:25:24

    SUSAN MOELLERThank you for having me.

  • 12:25:25

    NNAMDIWhat is media literacy, and why is it important?

  • 12:25:31

    MOELLERWell, media literacy essentially gives students -- but not just students, sort of all of us -- critical thinking skills. It gives us the information we need to distinguish between facts and opinions, for example. I would argue it's become a core literacy skill, just as we consider reading critically important and doing math accurately is important.

  • 12:26:02

    MOELLERBut also, as media literacy's taught not only in universities where I teach it and have taught it since 2001, but, you know, in K-12 schools, it's both a skill, but it's also a responsibility and our obligation. I think particularly in this digital era, we all are media producers, whether it's just on Facebook or Twitter or TikTok, or whatever. And so, helping student understand that they're part of the ecosystem of information is really important.

  • 12:26:35

    NNAMDILesley, there's a lot of misinformation. Much of it presented just like the reported news. How have you been teaching your students to distinguish fact from fiction in the news, and where does the president's rhetoric enter this conversation?

  • 12:26:53

    YOUNGESo, I actually started off my career in advertising, and then I did media literacy as an undergraduate degree at NYU. And so, incorporating these ideas into my teaching practice is something I've been doing for a long time. And it used to be really sort of a cutesy thing. We'd show these websites -- there's a famous one about a tree octopus -- and trying to get students to decipher whether this website about a tree octopus is real.

  • 12:27:23

    YOUNGEAnd I think what we're dealing with now is an incredibly advanced level of technology when it comes to creating news and fake news. And for students to decipher between what's real and what isn't takes a new set of skills, and even I learned when I was first learning bout media literacy. Because so much looks exactly like it should, but it's not true.

  • 12:27:48

    YOUNGEAnd so, one of the things that I rely on, there's an organization called ISTE. It's called the International Society for Technology and Education. And they have long had a set of standards and tools for students to use -- for teachers to use when teaching about digital literacy. I totally agree with Susan that it's an essential literacy for students.

  • 12:28:10

    YOUNGEAnd they have begun putting our materials, like, what do you do when the fake news looks exactly like the real news? And something I'm encouraging students to do is just pay attention to how news is making them feel. And I think this really connects to teaching students to actively listen. So, these active listening skills and these active reading skills and these active research skills are all about trying to understand where the information came from, how it was received, who sent it, what might be their purpose, their intent, what can you tell about their tone?

  • 12:28:46

    YOUNGEAnd then what's the effect on me? How is it playing into what I know about the world? What is it confirming? What is it challenging? What is it changing? And how does that influence what I want to do with this information? Do I want to discard it? Do I want to share it? Do I want to do further research? Do I need to triangulate it and make sure there's another source out there saying the exact same thing? But really having students notice how they're interacting with the product, whatever it might be, and then thinking very carefully about how it's impacting and what to do next.

  • 12:29:25

    NNAMDISusan Moeller, when did fake news become part of our national vocabulary, and why?

  • 12:29:32

    MOELLERYeah, I think we have the president to thank for that. I mean, there's been fake news going back centuries, quite literally. But in terms of term that we use, it's really President Trump -- and before him, Candidate Trump -- who brought it into the conversation. And what's, I think, interesting about it is it's not the same as misinformation or disinformation. Disinformation, of course, being sort of propaganda where someone is intentionally trying to mislead you. And misinformation may be, well, we're not really sure of the intent. It's perhaps just, you know, somebody's not entirely clear on the situation.

  • 12:30:20

    MOELLERBut fake news, particularly as the president uses it, is an epithet. You know, it's used specifically to undermine the credibility of those who disagree with him, which is often the media and often those who fact-check him. So, it's a -- you know, as he has said in an interview that Leslie Stahl reported out, the journalist, he's using it to undermine the credibility of media in order that people who then listen to that same media will question them.

  • 12:31:03

    NNAMDIWhat does it mean, Susan, to be media literate in the year 2020, and how does it relate to the upcoming election?

  • 12:31:11

    MOELLERYeah, no, that's a really good question. And I completely agree with Lesley about, you know, sort of how people need to be proactive, and particularly proactive now. Because I think a lot of us are taught in school -- in civic courses, but also just, in general -- that, you know, people in authority, elected officials, for example, or leaders of corporations or people who are trustworthy and who have information that we need to learn. But what we're finding, of course, is that we are being misled by politicians and by others.

  • 12:31:52

    MOELLERAnd one of the things that we need to do is what Lesley also called sort of active reading and understanding, you know, why this message is being sent, even who is sending it. Is it somebody you know or trust, and how do you evaluate that? I think one of the things that's interesting in our era of social media and just digital media, where a lot of information is pushed to us on our phones, is that we're increasingly asking for some of the major social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook to label false information.

  • 12:32:38

    MOELLERSo, just this week, Twitter added a label saying that a tweet violated Twitter's rules when Trump tweeted on Twitter that he was immune and unable to spread the virus. Earlier on, he had tweeted that there was "zero chance" and to quote that mail-in ballots will be, quote, "anything less than substantially fraudulent." You know, that's -- speaking of civic engagement, that's a real threat to our voting process. And so, you know, that's why we're asking social media to stop it before it goes viral, or at least before it goes more viral.

  • 12:33:15

    NNAMDIGot a tweet from Rebecca, who said: We cannot discuss media literacy without discussing reading comprehension and critical thinking. If you can locate information, but cannot comprehend it or cannot put it into context and draw conclusions, you're susceptible to misinformation and disinformation campaigns. And now, here is Mike in Alexandria, Virginia. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:33:39

    MIKEThanks for taking my call, Kojo. I think that it's very important that people take responsibility for their own media postings. And what bothers me a lot is when people share things -- and you catch them on it -- that it's false or it's misleading, they say, look I'm just sharing stuff. Don't take it so seriously. Well, the problem is that the foreign actors and the people who are trying to divide this country are absolutely counting on people to do that and then laugh it off and say that they're not taking it seriously. But the bell has already been rung, and it can't be undone.

  • 12:34:08

    MIKEAnd that's a very big problem. People need to take responsibility for what they share. And if they share enough things that are false, their friends should do the right thing and take them to task on it publically and make them accountable for what they're doing.

  • 12:34:20

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Erin Geiger Smith, along with an education in civics, why is news literacy so important?

  • 12:34:31

    SMITHWell, I think that to feel comfortable in voting and confident in your vote, you need to understand really well who you're voting for, what they're planning to do. And the best way to do that is to have a very wide news diet. Not only to go to the source of what the candidates say they're going to do, but have objected analysis that tells you what the means. If it's likely to be true, if it's possible what they're saying they're going to go can even happen.

  • 12:35:03

    SMITHAnd I just think that the news is the best way to get all of that information, and you have to be able to find that, that is trustworthy. I mean, to go to the caller's point on sharing, you know, I have, in the children's book, kind of questions to ask yourself before you share something. And that includes where did it come from, where did the person who wrote it get the information?

  • 12:35:33

    SMITHAnd the way that we learn to navigate and answer all of those questions is to have a really strong news literacy background. And I don't think it's easy to do, but, you know, teachers like Lesley and Susan that are helping people navigate this is very important. But you can't be a confident voter if you don't have the background information when you walk into the polls.

  • 12:36:02

    NNAMDIHere's Brenda, in Annandale. Brenda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:36:06

    BRIANNAYes. Hi.

  • 12:36:09

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Brianna, I'm sorry.

  • 12:36:11


  • 12:36:12

    NNAMDIBrianna, yes.

  • 12:36:13

    BRIANNAYes. Thank you, Kojo. I was actually just giving a call and wanted to make a comment about why young people are not voting and why they're underrepresented in, you know, the elections. And a lot of -- I've been voting since I was 18 years old. My parents have made it a very big deal. We vote every time. I've been voting every year, even on the off elections, since I was eligible to vote.

  • 12:36:41

    BRIANNABut a lot of my friends don't find value in voting, because they feel like the people who are on the ballot don't represent them. They don't speak to what's important to them. And they feel like, you know, there's no reason for them to even participate, because the options are, you know, void for them. They don't have anybody who's going to speak to them or, you know, represent them in Congress or in law enforcement.

  • 12:37:13

    NNAMDILesley Younge, is that something you have found among your students? When do they typically starts learning how to analyze and become more discerning about what's going on in politics and what might be important to them?

  • 12:37:29

    YOUNGEI think more and more schools are starting earlier with having students think about the issues they care about. There are a number of really inspirational young activists out right now, from Malala and Greta Thunberg and Marley Dias, Little Miss Flint. And there's so many wonderful young people speaking out about a wide variety of issues that they care about.

  • 12:37:51

    YOUNGEAnd so, I think that part starts early. Like, what do you want for your better world is a very common, early prompt for writing. And I think as we continue to ask students those questions, what do you care about, what do you care about, who's working on what you care about, who's doing something about what you care about. And always, you know, returning it back to what's happening immediately around them, I think that's the way we inspire them to take action through civic means, through voting, through protests, through speaking at a town council meeting, or something of that sort.

  • 12:38:36

    YOUNGEI think it starts with asking them what they care about, and then really pushing them to think about that in deeper and deeper ways as they go along. And, along the way, pointing out who are the young people in the world who are working on this.

  • 12:38:53

    YOUNGEOne of the things I appreciate about the Zinn Education Project is how many of their mixers involve students. There has been no major movement that didn't involve students. I mean, the civil rights movement was all students. And so, I think when we use these historical examples of the ways that students have used their rights, how young people have used their voice to make change, it does inspire them. And I think there are a lot of ways we can incorporate that into many disciplines and many grade levels in school.

  • 12:39:26

    NNAMDISarah emails: I use the League of Women Voters Guide for anything I was unfamiliar with or unsure about. It was very helpful for everything except the judges. It did not provide the context needed to understand what that race is all about. The Post had an editorial a few days ago that explains it pretty well. There's also a website, that says about the same thing. It's important to know the background on this one. And here now is Larry in Ocean City, Maryland, who's been waiting online for a while. Larry, thank you for waiting. You're now on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:40:02

    LARRYThank you, Kojo, for having some interesting subjects. I am what is called an election judge. Simply one that processes the votes that come through my town here. And I have done this in D.C. and also here since I was 30 years old, and I'm now 80. And this'll probably be the last election that I participate in as a judge. We never get too many volunteers because you have to be there at 6:00 a.m. in the morning and don't get out until 9:00. But it's very interesting to see all my neighbors. And I never know how they vote, but it's nice to know that they do.

  • 12:40:52

    NNAMDIIndeed, Larry, I think you'll be around for a few more elections, because there are a lot of people who are not showing up to be judges anymore. But thank you very much for sharing that with us, and good luck to you. Erin Geiger Smith, you now live in New York City, but you grew up in Liberty, Texas, right?

  • 12:41:14

    SMITHI did.

  • 12:41:16

    NNAMDIWhat can you tell us about the difference between those two places, come election time?

  • 12:41:21

    SMITHWell, you know, it's interesting because in general they don't feel like totally different worlds to me. They're both places where people are trying to raise a family and figure out school and just live productive, happy lives. But, come election time, Liberty is a very, very red part of the -- you know, Texas is still considered a red state, at least for a few more weeks. And Liberty is a particularly red part of Texas. And then I live in Manhattan, that votes extremely blue.

  • 12:42:01

    SMITHAnd it wasn't until probably the last five or six years that that felt really different, that it's become such a dividing point, that it feels, at election time, like two different worlds. And part of the reason I wrote this book was that I wish it wasn't the case. And I think if we had a much more robust voter turnout, that people overall would feel more represented. I think that part of the divisiveness comes from a fear that one politician or the other won't represent your desires or beliefs or needs. And I truly believe that if more people showed up, that it wouldn't feel that way.

  • 12:42:49

    SMITHYou know, one of the callers earlier stated that people don't feel like there's someone they can vote for that represents them. And I always just say to people, you know, politicians pay attention to the people who show up. And I really do feel like if everybody in Texas -- which has a pretty low voter turnout rate -- showed up and everybody in New York showed up, we'd be a lot closer to a government where everyone felt represented. And so, I don't like that these two places that I call home feel so different at election time. And I feel like if we had a much higher voter turnout rate, everyone would be a little happier with the way the government runs.

  • 12:43:37

    NNAMDIGot a tweet from Mary, who said: I learned as a little kid how important politics are. My mom turned activist in the early 1960s to advocate for Milwaukee, Wisconsin locating its next public library in our neighborhood. I grew up in those stacks and learned much that was not taught in school. But, Susan Moeller, most of us feel pretty confident in our news habits. We know what media outlets we trust, those which we don't. But are there risks in assuming we already know this stuff?

  • 12:44:07

    MOELLERYeah, that's a really good question, Kojo. I teach both first-year students at the University of Maryland, and I teach graduating seniors who are journalism students. And a couple of the exercises I give them, which actually you've listed on your website, teach them pretty quickly that they're not as good about detecting fake news and information as they think they are.

  • 12:44:37

    MOELLERAnd they also are getting one-sided information if all they are doing is relying on a single news source, as you've already talked about. So, yeah, I think that it's pretty critical to search outside our own echo chamber and to listen to, you know, public radio shows like yourself or Morning Edition or the DCist or Marketplace, which help listeners make sense when it is from multiple perspectives.

  • 12:45:13

    NNAMDILesley, is media literacy part of the curriculum at Maret School?

  • 12:45:19

    YOUNGEWe have a really robust media program. I'm just getting to know it, (laugh) digitally and virtually, of course. But I'm already (unintelligible) with what I see and how closely our librarians and our tech team are working with teachers to make sure we're really supporting students' digital experience and their ability to participate ethically and effectively as digital citizens. I mean, this virtual teaching, I think, has highlighted, more than ever, our need to make sure students are really savvy in all of these areas. And so, I feel very supported right now in doing that.

  • 12:45:55

    NNAMDIGot an email from Joan who says: I remember as a small child that my two sisters and I accompanied my mother on Election Day. We all crammed into a small portable booth, and mother pulled a big lever that closed the curtain behind us. I can still remember the sound of the lever, ca-chunk. And that was on either side of 70 years ago. Then mother moved downward small metal arrows next to her preferred candidate. When she pulled the lever again, her votes were recorded, and the curtain opened again.

  • 12:46:22

    NNAMDII don't remember specifically what she told us, but I always knew that voting was one of the privileges and responsibilities of adulthood that one gladly took on. And I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Erin Geiger Smith, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:46:37

    SMITHThanks so much for having me.

  • 12:46:38

    NNAMDIErin is the author of "Thank You For Voting: The Maddening, Enlightening, Inspiring Truth About Voting in America." Lesley Young, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:46:46

    YOUNGEThank you. It's a pleasure.

  • 12:46:47

    NNAMDIAnd Susan Moeller, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:46:50

    MOELLERThank you.

  • 12:46:51

    NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Julie Depenbrock. Coming up tomorrow, the real estate market in this region is booming, but not for everyone. In Prince George's County many black homeowners are hurting from old predatory loans and are worried about losing their homes. Plus, the Military Women's Memorial Foundation at the Arlington National Cemetery will unveil a monument honoring all women who have served. We'll talk with the sculptor and the president of the foundation. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening, and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Related Links

Topics + Tags

Most Recent Shows